Close to 350 people walked around Pioneer Village of the Kern County Museum on Saturday to spread the word about Valley Fever.
"I still have a scar on my right lung and some respiratory problems,” said Ralph Bailey, who was diagnosed with Valley Fever two years ago. “At particularly at high elevations, like when I was at Mammoth Lakes recently, I couldn't walk 50 yards."
Valley Fever Americas Foundation held its first Walk for Valley Fever Awareness. There were 2,734 cases of the disease resulting in 14 deaths reported in Kern County in 2011 according to the health department.
Walkers came from as far as Los Angeles and Visalia to walk for their loved ones.
“I’ve seen her go from being energetic to really restless,” says Alicia Chao, whose mother was diagnosed with Valley Fever two months ago. “It’s changed her a lot, and doctors said her bones have deteriorated so much.”
Chao’s best friend Katie Saelee drove from Visalia to walk with her. Saelee’s little brother also has Valley Fever.
“People don’t know about it and that’s the sad thing,” Saelee says. “They don’t know about how bad it can get or life changing because he used to be pretty active, and he can’t be as active as he used to be now.”
Pasqual Hernandez knows about it all to well. He lost his 17-year-old daughter Jackie to Valley Fever four years ago this month.
"From her blood to her lungs to her brain, it just ate her up pretty bad," Hernandez says.
Valley Fever is a fungal infection inhaled into the lungs, from spores kicked up from dirt. People with the disease often have flu or pneumonia-like symptoms. Hernandez’ daughter had several surgeries, including having her spleen and gall bladder removed. She battled the disease for two years and didn’t make it to her senior year at Bakersfield High School.
"Don't give up hope, keep fighting, that's all I can ask,” he says. “It's hard to see your daughter just deteriorate and then not have the medicine for her to make her feel better."
Kern County leads the nation in Valley Fever cases. Many people affected by this disease, with no cure, hope to change that.
"It's inspirational to see folks who have gone through what I’ve gone through and had the scare,” Bailey says. “I mean it is frightening for your physician to say we don't know what's going on, and we don't have a cure for you."
Doctors advise if you have flu or pneumonia-like symptoms for more than two weeks, see a doctor and ask for a Valley Fever test.
If you would like to learn more about the Valley Fever Americas Foundation, you can visit www.valleyfever.com